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67. ‘Back Story,’ David Mitchell…

67. ‘Back Story,’ David Mitchell…

Back Story,’ David Mitchell

First of all, I must point out, (although not as often as he must have to), that this David Mitchell is not the David Mitchell who is the author of some of my favourite books of recent years, from ‘Cloud Atlas‘  to ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,’ (reviewed here last week). He is instead the deadpan British comedian who has decided to emulate his literary namesake by writing an autobiography. About himself. Naturally. Not about the other David Mitchell. That would be a biography.The_Thousand_Autumns_of_Jacob_de_Zoet_(cover)

They are, separately, two people I enjoy immensely, one for his constant tinkering with literary conventions and highly readable writing style, the other for his grumpy comic persona in everything from the cult British comedy series ‘Peep Show’ to his appearances on TV game-shows and news panels. Would I want to see David Mitchell the author do a stand-up set? That would depend on how funny he is. Is David Mitchell the comedian a good writer? Hmmmmm…

Unless you know his work, or are particularly fond of one man’s views on the trivia of West London, (the autobiography is (very) loosely hung on a frame of the author wandering around the area he lives trying to work off severe back problems), this book probably won’t mean much to you. For me, it was vaguely entertaining, mainly for the insight it gave into the idea of comedy persona being different from comedians’ true personalities, and for the insights it offered into the making of the aforementioned ‘Peep Show’ which, for years, was one of the funniest (and most under-rated) shows on TV.

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David Mitchell describes himself at one point in his autobiography as ‘a conservative who thinks the world needs to change…’ a wonderfully Mitchellian description which is the driving force behind so much of his now-famous rant-based comedy. He likes things the way they are. But he also hates a lot of things the way they are.

“I liked chocolate, just nowhere near as much as toast…”

he writes at one point, reminding me of one of my favourite ever comedy scenes featuring  Mitchell and his co-japester Robert Webb in the second ever episode of ‘Peep Show.’

Mitchell on comedy:

“I concluded that everyone loved and admired comedy, however stern or important they might seem.

I was wrong about that. Lots of people don’t particularly like comedy. Some really have no sense of humour at all – they genuinely don’t find things funny. Consequently they often laugh a lot in the hope that they won’t be found out – that, by the law of averages, they’ll be laughing when a joke happens…”

Mitchell‘s irreverence led to one of those moments when I nearly choked with laughter, before realising that this probably makes me a really, really bad person when reading the following:

“The other major change our family underwent while I was at New College School was Grandpa dying. I was ten. In some ways, this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It’s definitely the worst thing that ever happened to him…”

Finally, Mitchell on foodies’ attempts to make the less foodie try new things, a scenario which I experienced more or less daily for the first 16 years of my life:

“The culinarily adventurous often deploy the phrase ‘You don’t know what you’re missing’ to try and persuade me – but I just think: ‘Well, that’s all right then’ Imagine if I’d never tried alcohol and didn’t know what I was missing there – well, that would be brilliant!…I’m very glad I don’t know what I’m missing where cocaine’s concerned…”

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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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66. ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,’ David Mitchell…

66. ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,’ David Mitchell…

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,’ David Mitchell

David Mitchell is one of my favourite authors, with a penchant for swooping prose and beautiful allusions, not to mention a breadth of interests and expertise which enabled him to write ‘Ghost Written,’ one of the most ambitious, sweeping books I have ever read, and to follow it up with ‘Black Swan Green,’ a sweetly simple story of a year in the life of a teenage boy growing up in rural England.

This, his latest release, (although dating back to 2010), was maybe my least favourite in terms of style, but still an interesting fictional account of the Dutch merchants who were allowed to base themselves out of the trading port of Nagasaki, southern Japan, in 1799. (Mitchell was an English teacher in Japan shortly before I was, giving me hope as well as inspiration for my future writing career).

Just like Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure,’ (reviwed here), or Kazuo Ishiguro‘s ‘The Remains of the Day,’ one of the interesting aspects of this historical fiction is the underlying sense of an era ending: the clash of East and West which within half-a-century or so is to come to a head with Commodore Perry’s enforced opening of the country to the rest of the world. But for the duration of the novel, we are treated to a mixture of medical procedures, cultural and magical traditions, political intrigues and machinations, and a light sprinkling of romance. Fans of Japan, historical fiction, or Mitchell’s other books may like to try it, or to delve into his back catalogue.

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Here are some of my favourite quotes:

“Two hours pass at the speed of one but exhaust Jacob like four…”

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“…bibliophiles are not uncommon in Leiden, but bibliophiles made wise by reading are as rare there as anywhere…”

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“‘Doctor, do you believe in the soul’s existence?’

Marinus prepares, the clerk expects, an erudite and arcane reply. ‘Yes.’

‘Then where…’ Jacob indicates the pious, profane skeleton ‘…is it?’

‘The soul is a verb,’ he impales a lit candle on a spike, ‘not a noun’…”

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“Her name is Tsukinami, ‘Moon Wave’: Jacob liked her shyness.

Though shyness, too, he suspects, can be applied with paint and powder…”

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“Gloria, you must remember, had rarely gone beyond the Singel Canal. Java was as far off as the moon. Further, in fact, for the moon is, at least, visible from Amsterdam…”

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“A chubby hand slides the door open and the boy, who looks like Kawasemi when he smiles and like Shiroyama when he frowns, darts into the room…”

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Finally, a line which could only have been written by someone who had spent a lot of time teaching in a Japanese classroom:

“Jacob notices that where a Dutch pupil would say, ‘I don’t understand,’ the interpreters lower their eyes, so the teacher cannot merely explicate, but must also gauge his students’ true comprehension…”

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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in BOOKS

 

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149. Books Bought & Read, October 2016…

149. Books Bought & Read, October 2016…

This month marked a historic first for me: on the last Monday of October, I emerged from my four-hour shift in the Housing Works Charity Bookstore and Cafe where I volunteer without having purchased a single book.

I’m not sure whether the fact that, over the previous 30 days, I had bought 85 books made this feat less impressive, or more.

That Personal Best means I’m not even partially consoled by the fact that I read a substantial 21 books this month, especially given that so many of them were graphic novels, (including the breath-takingly beautiful ‘Habibi,’ a confluence of Middle Eastern art and penmanship, religious texts and 1,001 nights mythology in comic form).

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This was largely due to the fact that one of my co-workers treated me to an afternoon at New York’s ridiculously huge ComicCon earlier in the month, where I got to meet a cardboard cutout of George R.R.Martin, a real-life version of French director Luc Besson, ate revolting flavoured Jelly Bellys, and generally gorged on pop culture.

And comics.

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With my visa in hand, and having finally taken (and passed!) the NYC sightseeing guide test, I begin work in a few weeks giving walking tours of the Financial District and Midtown Manhattan, so the Books Read list includes the tail end of my study guides. Comic Con was represented again after I met the artist responsible for the visually wonderful graphic novel version of the life of the ‘Master Builder’ of NYC, Robert Moses.

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In case I decide to get a more serious job, I read former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s memoirs of his time in charge of the organisation, a whirlwind trip through the UN’s role in world events throughout the 1990’s, which left me feeling simultaneously better informed about world affairs and amazed that we have made it this far.

Probably my favourite book this month, however, was a book on six famous British poets by someone who knows as little as I do about poetry, but knows some fascinating things about the writers themselves and just happens to be one of England’s greatest writers, National Treasure™ Alan Bennett.

Also, for no reason I can fathom, I accidentally discovered that I purchased five books this month with the word ‘secret’ in the title. I’ll just leave that with you…

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth (Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes)

The Witches:suspicion, betrayal, and hysteria in 1692 salem (Stacy Schiff)

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

McSweeney’s Quarterly, volume 8 (various)

The Pied Piper Of Hamlin (Russell Brand & Chris Ridell)

The Visible Man (Chuck Klosterman)

Paris vs. New York (Vahram Muratyan)

Six Poets: hardy to larkin, an anthology (Alan Bennett)

Stonehenge (Robin Heath)

The Tibetan Book Of The Dead (translated by Gyurme Dorje)

Maggot Moon (Sally Gardner)

You Shall Know Us By Our Velocity (Dave Eggers)

Animal Farm (George Orwell)

The Art Of War (Lao Tzu)

Laughter In The Dark (Vladimir Nabakov)

Jailbird (Kurt Vonnegut)

Pastoralia (George Saunders)

Wilderness Tips (Margaret Atwood)

Although, Of Course, You End Up Becoming Yourself: a road trip with david foster wallace (David Lipsky)

Hedwig And The Angry Inch (David Michael Cameron & Stephen Trask)

Utopia: pt.1 (Tom Stoppard)

Wind/Pinball (Haruki Murakami)

Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow (Haruki Murakami)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami) x2

The Wind In The Willows (Kenneth Graham)

Cooked: a natural history of transformation (Michael Pollan)

The Little Red Lighthouse And The Great Grey Bridge (Hildegarde H.Swift & Lynd Ward)

Brief Candle In The Dark: my life in science (Richard Dawkins)

An Appetite For Wonder: the making of a scientist (Richard Dawkins)

Born A Crime:stories from a south african childhood (Trevor Noah)

The Juice: vinous veritas (Jay McInerney)

Robert Moses: the master builder of new york city (Pierre Christin & Olivier Bayez)

Art Game Book (David Rosenberg)

Mister Wonderful: a love story (Daniel Clowes)

Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safron Foer)

Of Mice And Men (John Steinbeck)

Dracula’s Guest And Other Weird Stories (Bram Stoker)

The Basque History Of The World (Mark Kurlansky)

The Trial Of Henry Kissinger (Christopher Hitchens)

Let The Great World Spin (Colum McCann)

When You Are Engulfed In Flames (David Sedaris)

The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)

Cleopatra (Stacy Schiff)

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

40 Under 40: stories from the new yorker (various)

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (John Boyne)

McSweeney’s Comedy By The Numbers:  the 169 secrets of humor and popularity (Eric Hoffman & Gary Rudoren)

Mountain Man Dance Moves: the mcsweeney’s book of lists (various)

Oryx & Crake (Margaret Atwood)

The Year Of The Flood (Margaret Atwood)

Maddaddam (Margaret Atwood)

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver)

Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)

Thing Explainer: complicated stuff in simple words (Randall Munroe)

The Art of Tim Burton

The Underground Railway (Colson Whitehead)

Drop Dead Healthy (A.J.Jacobs)

The Throwback Special (Chris Bachelder)

Rashomon And 17 Other Stories (Ryunosuke Akutagawa)

England Made Me (Graham Greene)

Status Anxiety (Alain de Botton)

Inside The Apple: a secret history of new york (Michelle & James Nevius)

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)

Forever Words: the unknown poems (Johnny Cash)

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: a marvelous memoir (Stan Lee, Peter David & Colleen Doran)

The Totally Secret Secret (Bob Shea)

The Sandman: endless myths (Neil Gaiman)

The Architecture Of Happiness (Alain de Botton)

Superbad: stories and pieces (Ben Greenman)

Wild Nights! (Joyce Carol Oates)

The Anatomy Of Harpo Marx (Wayne Koestenbaum)

A Little History Of Religion (Richard Holloway)

What Should We Be Worried About? real scenarios that keep scientists up all night (ed.John Brockman)

Classic Penguin: cover to cover (Paul Buckley)

Upstairs At The Strand: writers in conversation at the legendary bookshop (ed.Jessica Strand & Andrea Aguilar)

A Curious Mind: the secret to a bigger life (Brian Grazer & Charles Fishman)

Insurrections Of The Mind: 100 years of politics and culture in america (ed.Franklin Foer)

Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

Titanic: first accounts (ed.Tim Maltin)

Pacific (Simon Winchester)

The Familiar, volume 2: into the forest (Mark Z.Danielewski)

Care To Make Love In That Gross Little Space Between Cars? a believer book of advice (various)

Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)

 

Books Read, October 2016 (recommended books in bold)

Interventions: a life in war and peace (Kofi Annan)

Paris vs. New York (Vahram Muratyan)

The Pied Piper Of Hamlin (Russell Brand & Chris Ridell)

Six Poets: hardy to larkin, an anthology (Alan Bennett)

The Little Red Lighthouse And The Great Grey Bridge (Hildegarde H.Swift & Lynd Ward)

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth (Sanjay Patel & Emily Haynes)

Robert Moses: the master builder of new york city (Pierre Christin & Olivier Bayez)

The Books Of Magic (Neil Gaiman)

A History Of New York In 101 Objects (Sam Roberts)

Mister Wonderful: a love story (Daniel Clowes)

The Totally Secret Secret (Bob Shea)

The Trial Of Henry Kissinger (Christopher Hitchens)

Blankets (Craig Thompson)

Habibi (Craig Thompson)

The Tycoons: how andrew carnegie, john d.rockefeller, jay gould, and j.p.morgan invented the american supereconomy (Charles R.Morris)

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: a marvelous memoir (Stan Lee, Peter David & Colleen Doran)

Stonehenge (Robin Heath)

Care To Make Love In That Gross Little Space Between Cars? a believer book of advice (various)

Upstairs At The Strand: writers in conversation at the legendary bookshop (ed.Jessica Strand & Andrea Aguilar)

The Works: how a city works (Kate Ascher)

Brand New Ancients (Kate Tempest)

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2016 in BOOKS